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Published: Friday, 1/10/2003

Judge Puffenberger to work a week for free

BY MARK REITER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Lucas County Probate Judge Jack Puffenberger will soon join a growing group of area elected officials who double-dip: simultaneously draw a salary and collect a public pension while still on the job.

But it will cost him a week's salary.

Judge Puffenberger, who has been probate judge since 1991, has estimated that he will draw a pension of $70,000 a year through the Ohio Public Employee Retirement System on top of his $107,600 annual salary. He will begin collecting his pension in April.

The 51-year-old has been contributing to the retirement system for more than 30 years. Prior to being elected probate judge, he was a municipal court judge and assistant city prosecutor.

To activate his pension, Judge Puffenberger will retire Jan. 31, then stay in office for eight days as a retired judge until he begins his new term on Feb. 9.

Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Moyer has asked Judge Puffenberger and other judges who take a brief retirement so they can draw their pensions to forfeit their pay for days worked in the interim.

After “retiring,” Judge Puffenberger will be assigned to his current position. However, he will not get the pay that a retired judge would normally receive from the Supreme Court. Instead, he will work Feb. 3-7 for free.

“Essentially Judge Puffenberger and the others would be visiting judges in their own court,” said Jay Wuebbold, a spokesman for the Supreme Court. “This is being done to ensure continuity of case flow in the courts. The judges are the most familiar with the dockets.”

The unpaid week equates to about $2,100 in lost wages, but Judge Puffenberger said keeping the courtroom operation running smoothly is more important.

“That's fine. I think it is important for continuity in the court for me to be here,” he said.

Ottawa County Common Pleas Judge Paul Moon and Fulton County Probate Judge Michael Bumb were also re-elected to their $107,600-a-year positions in November and have decided to begin drawing their pensions. They have notified the Supreme Court they too will retire Jan. 31.

Neither Judge Moon nor Judge Bumb could be reached for comment yesterday. Judge Moon previously told the Supreme Court in a letter that he would work without pay until his new term begins on Feb. 9.

A law passed in 2001 by the Ohio General Assembly requires judges and other elected officials to file a notice with the county elections board 90 days before the election indicating their intention to draw a pension and continue to work.

Judge Puffenberger was unopposed in August when he filed the necessary paperwork with the board of elections. However, attorney Tim Kuhlman entered the race as a write-in candidate in September after the deadline to have his name placed on the ballot.

Former Lucas County Commissioner Sandy Isenberg had intended to collect her retirement as well as her salary if re-elected, but changed her mind about double-dipping following a public outcry. She was defeated by then Toledo Clerk of Municipal Courts Maggie Thurber.

Legislation that would have plugged the loophole that allows public officials to draw pensions and collect salaries at the same time was drafted in August and introduced in the Ohio House of Representatives. However the bill died when the session ended last month.

Bill co-sponsor Rep. Lynn Olman (R., Maumee) said yesterday the legislation would be redrafted and introduced to the 125h General Assembly.



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